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Human Services Agency proposes childcare solution for foster families

By Kristen Hackbarth

The number of licensed foster care providers in Washoe County has dropped in recent years, and county officials say a lack of local childcare is largely to blame. Human Services Agency Director Amber Howell on Tuesday proposed to members of the Board of County Commissioners to sponsor a childcare center as one solution to the crisis. 

The number of licensed foster care providers in the community has dropped by 14% from 2020 to 2021, resulting in 19% fewer beds available for foster youth. Of those children in foster care, more than half are age 5 and under and in need of childcare. 

They can’t get a spot in a local childcare center, however, because those are already full, so foster parents who work are unable to care for those children. 

Howell said that even if the number of childcare spaces in the county were doubled – to 20,000 total – there would still be a shortage of spaces available.

She added that over the past five years there’s been a decrease in the number of children in foster care thanks to efforts to keep families together, but that shortages in foster homes and childcare placements are still straining the system. 

“There’s a lot of things we need to work on and fix…but this childcare issue is just a repeating theme for us,” Howell said. 

Commissioner Alexis Hill, who has an 11-month-old child, said she understands the challenge firsthand. She said she applied for a spot in daycare while she was pregnant and more than a year later it’s still not available. She has only been able to find part-time childcare for now. 

The HSA proposal would be to secure grant funding from the state’s Department of Health and Human Services to purchase a childcare center at risk of closure. The department would then select a non-profit vendor to operate the center and assist that vendor with renovations, supplies and activities. 

In exchange for assisting the vendor with operating the childcare center, foster families would receive priority access to childcare at the facility, including emergency placement. Washoe County employees would also be able to access services at the location for a reduced rate. 

“There’s some areas that we can get creative on, and we can make a difference in this community. If it helps children get what they need at an early age, it helps working families, it helps our foster care system, it has a domino effect in several areas where this could be really exciting if we could figure out a way to do this….It takes a community effort.”

Commissioner Hill said the proposal could be a game-changer for the foster community. 

“We want this to help with both the most vulnerable people in our community, our foster youth,” she said. “And what a game-changer if we can get more people interested in becoming licensed. If we can say ‘no, we’ve got that childcare taken care of. We’ve got you a slot.’” 

Commissioner Kitty Jung said she liked the concept and that it would not only help local foster families but it would also be a benefit that could help the county attract young professionals to join its workforce. 

“We want to recruit new employees, and it’s these soft benefits are the only way we will ever be able to compete,” she said. “The worry of not knowing where to take your kids…it’s a real issue. With the young people coming in we’re going to have more childcare issues, not less.”

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